Bluetooth group releases three-year road map

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) Monday is releasing a three-year road map for Bluetooth short-range wireless technology that includes a tripling of bandwidth and the ability to multicast signals to seven other users.

Even as the road map is released, Bluetooth backers are defending the technology against future alternatives such as Ultrawideband (UWB), and point out that the use of Bluetooth is growing.

For example, about 3 million Bluetooth-enabled products are already shipping every week, and nearly 3,000 vendors have become members of the SIG, said Michael Foley, executive and technical director of Bluetooth SIG Inc. in Overland Park, Kan. Some 1,700 Bluetooth products are already on the market, from Bluetooth-enabled keyboards and mouses to earpieces for cell phones. He also noted that all major U.S wireless service providers already offer Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones or plan to offer them by the end of the year.

The three-year road map will help show that Bluetooth has staying power, Foley said.

Under the road map, the SIG plans to complete the Bluetooth Version 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) specification by the end of this year, increasing the data rate to 3Mbit/sec., up from 1Mbit/sec. in the current Version 1.2, Foley said. Products are expected to appear with the EDR as early as June 2005, he said. The newer-version products will also be backward-compatible with older versions.

For 2005, a core software specification update will be completed in the first quarter of 2005, with a prototype complete in the fourth quarter of 2005. That update will focus on security, quality of service and power optimization to improve things such as streaming applications and privacy enhancements, Foley said.

Another core software specification update is expected to be completed by the end of 2005, with prototypes built by the fourth quarter of 2006. This update will include a major innovation allowing a person using a Bluetooth device to multicast to seven other devices at once. Currently, Bluetooth devices can communicate only one to one.

Multicasting would allow easier communications between groups involved in tasks such as multiplayer gaming. Other features in the 2006 core update include greater range and privacy, Foley said. The current range for most implementations is up to 30 feet, with the greatest bandwidth available at much shorter distances, within what experts call the personal-area network (PAN) of a few feet.

While many Bluetooth applications focus on the consumer market, Foley said the 2005 core update will help improve Bluetooth-enabled sensor devices used in manufacturing settings.

While some analysts have belittled Bluetooth when comparing it to much faster emerging UWB technology, Foley believes the two can coexist. “I see a collaborative relationship between the technologies and organizations,” he said in an interview.

Foley noted that Bluetooth so far is the only proven wireless technology for PANs and said the three-year road map should ensure that it remains the leader in personal connectivity.

UWB products could appear next year, with more implementations by 2007, said analyst Craig Mathias at Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass. UWB promises data rates of 1Gbit/sec., about 100 times the current bandwidth of Bluetooth.

“Bluetooth is here now, while low-cost UWB is five years out,” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Still, he was critical of the Bluetooth capabilities seen today.

“They are making improvements, but frankly it takes me far too long to use the (Bluetooth) technology,” Dulaney said. In a few informal tests to connect his mobile phone with another one and to transfer files from his phone to a notebook, Dulaney said the process can take up to an hour.

In the case of mobile phone headsets linked wirelessly via Bluetooth to the actual phone, the Bluetooth connection is no better than infrared. And speaking of infrared, he noted that there are “millions of infrared devices” in the market that are not used. “Having the technology doesn’t mean it is appreciated,” he said.

Dulaney said he is also troubled that many of the SIG members are competing vendors that refuse to perform independent interoperability testing and refuse to even discuss having standard user interfaces. He did not name any vendors.

Many vendors showed products with Bluetooth capability at the recent CTIA Wireless show in San Francisco. For example, Motorola Inc. showed eight mobile phones equipped with Bluetooth and five headsets, as well as a Bluetooth speaker.

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